COMMITTEES CONTINUE TO RELEASE INTERIM REPORTS

House Committee on County Affairs

The House Committee on County Affairs, which considered six interim charges, recently released its interim report.  The report’s city-related recommendations are as follows:

  • Each taxing entity should be required to report all proposed bond initiatives and debt to the Texas Bond Review Board. The Legislature should ensure that implementation of this measure does not result in an unfunded mandate on the taxing entity.
  • The Texas Bond Review Board or the Comptroller’s Office should have a tool on its Web site so that people can enter their zip code and find an immediate tally of how much debt is being carried by their local taxing entities.
  • Taxing entities should provide a projected ad valorem tax impact anticipated from bonds that will be issued in the current tax year and over the life of the outstanding bonds based on projected repayment schedules. The legislature should ensure that implementation of this measure does not result in an unfunded mandate on the taxing entity.
  • Taxing entities should disclose the status of all existing bond projects and an accounting of expenditure of proceeds within two years of issuance and arbitrage compliance. The legislature should ensure that implementation of this measure does not result in an unfunded mandate on the taxing entity.
  • The legislature should consider adopting limited and reasonable measures to protect against incompatible land uses in high growth areas outside of city jurisdiction. Such measures might include granting counties optional authority to adopt regulations for performance based buffer zones or the ability to designate reserved industrial land use areas, with appropriate safeguards for both new and existing homeowners, as well as new and existing industry.
  • The legislature should consider granting counties optional authority to adopt regulations that would assess impact fees or “in lieu” fees for the proportional costs of widening or extending roads required to serve new development.
  • The legislature should continue to monitor growth management issues in counties experiencing high rates of population growth and take steps to provide county governments with the tools necessary to protect private property rights, land values, and development opportunities for all in the unincorporated areas of these counties.
  • The legislature should monitor and support the use of tax increment finance zones, county improvement districts, water districts, and other special service districts, since they are vital tools used to improve the quality of life and promote economic development.

The full text of the report is available online at
http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committees/reports/81interim/House-Committee-on-County-Affairs-Interim-Report-2010.pdf.

House Transportation Committee

The House Transportation Committee had multiple charges over the legislative interim.  Of particular interest to cities is the charge to review federal, state, and local programs to promote traffic light signalization, improve traffic flow, and reduce congestion. 

The committee had the following recommendations on those issues:

  • Allowing transportation funding programs to be used for local agencies to improve their traffic signal programs, including the use of smart signal systems, and acquire the personnel necessary to maintain and improve those systems. 
  • Encouraging local jurisdictions to: (1) use fewer traffic signals; (2) use alternatives to traffic signals during off-peak hours; and (3) use alternatives to traffic signals, such as flashing yellow or red arrows, green balls for unprotected left turns, traffic roundabouts, superstreets, and continuous flow intersections to improve mobility. 
  • The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) should: (1) adopt a standard for unprotected left turns to allow traffic to move more freely through intersections; (2) evaluate the criteria used to justify the use of traffic signals;  and (3) establish more effective guidelines for the use of traffic signals with a goal of reducing the number of traffic lights in actual use.

The committee also had recommendations related to road worker safety, toll roads, metropolitan planning organizations, transportation in rural areas related to agriculture, and TxDOT’s implementation of sunset recommendations.  The full report is available at http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committees/reports/81interim/House-Committee-on-Transportation-Interim-Report-2010.pdf.

House Committee on Ways and Means

The House Committee on Ways and Means addressed six interim charges.  The committee did not make any recommendations on the six charges, but did conduct interim hearings to gather information related to each.  The committee’s city-related charges and a brief summary of the relevant information are as follows: 

Examine the state’s major tax exemptions to determine how the current costs and benefits compare with the original legislative objectives. Make recommendations for adjustments as needed.

  • The committee received oral and written testimony from the comptroller’s office and various interest groups in examining exemptions to the franchise tax, property tax, sales tax, and severance tax.  The report included a discussion of the “Freeport” property tax exemption, tax increment financing, and a number of sales tax exemptions that affect cities.

Study methods for improving the quality and uniformity of, and communications to taxpayers about, property tax appraisals.  Monitor the implementation of property tax appraisal and alternative valuation appeal reforms enacted by the Eighty-First Legislature.

  • The committee summarized legislation adopted during the last legislative session to address certain appraisal issues, including legislation adopted to address the issue of excluding foreclosed properties from appraisals, the issue of appraising property at its “highest and best use” value, and legislation amending the appraisal protest process.  
  • The committee looked at H.B. 2982, passed in 2007, which changed the methodology for oil and gas valuation in the appraisal process.  Counties argued to the committee that the new valuation formula has created a loss in revenue and shifted the tax burden from the oil and gas industry to private property owners.  The oil and gas industry testified that the current law is working, and any difference in valuation can be attributed to market forces.  

Study the tax structure as applied to cable versus satellite service to determine if any unfair competition results from state tax policies.

  • The committee broadly addressed the issue of the effect of municipal franchise fees on telecommunications.  According to the report, the cable industry believes that franchise fees and sales taxes imposed on cable companies put cable companies at a distinct disadvantage when competing with satellite companies, which do not pay franchise fees.  Satellite providers do not believe they should be subject to access line fees because they do not use the public rights-of-way.
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